We've all been there: an email arrives in your inbox promising you thousands (if not millions!) of dollars' worth of prize money. You can't remember entering any contests, but oh well. There's just one catch: you need to submit a processing fee to get the ball rolling on your big fat cheque. A small price to pay to claim your prize, wouldn't you say? ... Not so fast.
At this point, I think most of us are savvy enough to realize that this kind of offer is simply too good to be true. The problem is, scams are getting smarter, and it's getting harder and harder to predict what fraudsters will try next.
New scams prey on our emotions to try and lure us into acting without thinking. It's the e-mail that excitingly tells you have been chosen to win a prize, but must purchase a product on your credit card before claiming it. It's a telephone call from a "government agency" that scares you into providing your financial information on the spot in order to settle an alleged debt. It's the worrying email from a friend who is stuck abroad and needs you to transfer money into their bank account. Feeling stressed yet?
What fraudsters are really looking for is your personal information, such as answers to security questions or passwords. And there are a lot of different methods these days for them to try and get this sensitive information, including e-mails disguised as legitimate communications (phishing), communications appearing to be from a trusted source (spoofing), telephone calls (vishing), text messages (smishing) and devices that steal your information (skimming).
Here are some tips to help prevent financial fraud:
- Protect your PIN and guard your cheques - The only person who should know your PIN is you - not even your bank knows it. Don't ever give out your PIN, whether in person, over the phone, online or by mail. You should also never leave your cheques unattended, and if your chequebook is lost or stolen, call your bank immediately.
- Don't be fooled by phishing - Use caution when receiving unsolicited e-mails containing attachments or asking you to click a link and provide sensitive information. Banks will not ask you to provide personal information, or login information such as usernames, passwords, PINs, security questions and answers, or account numbers, through unsolicited e-mail.
- Verify if it's real - If you receive an unexpected and too-good-to-be-true cheque, chances are it may be fraudulent. It's always important to know who you're doing business with.
- Check your statements, online accounts or banking apps regularly - This will alert you to fraudulent transactions more quickly. Money management apps, like the TD MySpend app, can be helpful tools since they help to be aware of certain types of transactions.
Though March was Fraud Prevention Month, being cautious and savvy about guarding your financial health is a year-long job. If you think something is off, you're probably right. And above all, when in doubt, don't pay out!
Follow Brian Gervais on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BrianGervais_TD